Compassion at work

Are you born compassionate, or is it something you can learn and practice? Compassion is one of our values as a Wellbeing Team, and in our Value Based Recruitment we look for people who are compassionate, but should we see it as a skill you can teach instead?

I asked Caroline Bartle from 3 Spirit UK to share her views on this. 3 Spirit UK is a collaborative of social care practitioners and their goal is to improve social care practice. They achieve this goal in different ways but mainly through education. I asked Caroline to share her thoughts on compassion in social care, and what this means as a training provider.

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Shannon created Love Notes. I received my first Love Note from my friend and colleague Eric, at a retreat. The Love Note wished me luck with Wellbeing Teams. In August I met the Shannon in person. She is the Love Note Writer, a vibrant innovator creating public displays of affection and a fresh way to think about compassion in life and work. The Love Note that she sent me after that is on my mirror in the bedroom, it means a lot. For me, Love Notes are a practical example of compassion in action, so I asked Shannon to join our blog series about compassion at work. This is her story.

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This is the first in a series of blogs about compassion. Compassion is the first value of Wellbeing Teams, and I want to learn how to build this into everything we do. Last week Andy Bradley talked about Compassion Circles in our podcast, and today Mary Freer starts the blog series and introduces  Compassion Labs. Mary’s focus is on building Compassionate Leadership that will nurture a more mindful, resilient and kind workforce. I met Mary last year at an event organised by Jackie Lynton, and her energy, creativity and drive for change is palpable. She brings to the challenge of reforming our existing health and social care services a strong focus on long term, co-created, large-scale change. Change that has the individual right at the centre. Over to Mary.

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you. L.R.Knost

It is now accepted that staff well being is an important antecedent for high quality client/patient experience ( Jill Maben 2016). We know that the way we treat each other at work has an  immediate and sometimes detrimental impact on the people we are caring for. Prof Amir Erez demonstrated in his 2016 study that rude and uncivil behaviour experienced at work impairs our capacity to perform our duties successfully. If one of our duties is to administer medication or intubate a patient this can have a catastrophic consequence (Erez, 2016; The Impact of Rudeness on Medical Team Performance: A Randomized Trial).

We also know that a compassionate work environment benefits caregivers who are likely to feel more engaged, less exhausted and have more satisfied clients/patients. Team members experiencing kindness at work will also have less sick days, be less likely to burn-out and will be inspired to perform more meaningfully in their work. (The Centre for Compassion, Altruism, Research and Education at Stanford University created this Infographic for Dignity Health).

Knowing all of this I created Compassion Lab so that people who work in health and social care could come together and learn about their capacity for compassion for others, and importantly for themselves. I think of compassion, not as a soft skill, but as a courageous and muscular set of actions and intentions that liberate all of us.

Compassion Lab is often delivered as a 2 Day workshop for up to 30 people. I want people to experience the accessibility  of mindfulness. Not in a spiritual or esoteric way but as an invitation that is open to us in every moment of our day. We step into that moment simply by being entirely present with each other without any judgement. I’m discovering that people are so accustomed to juggling and multi-tasking that they have mistaken that for efficiency. It’s only when we stop and attend to what is happening in this very moment that we realise how dangerously close to sleep walking we have become. So in some ways we wake up to the present moment.

We learn about the way our brain is wired to veer to the negative and to seek out potential for threat. This requires some corrective attention and a willingness to recognise when our sympathetic nervous system becomes up-regulated. We also spend time listening to our critical voice and our anxious voice and notice how quickly we can access their advice in any situation. We also discover how unhelpful and damaging our critical and anxious selves are. We spend some time giving ourselves the compassion we deserve as we practice loving kindness meditations and examine the calming effect compassion has on us.

I want people to come into a Compassion Lab and discover that compassion is about noticing the distress and suffering of others AND of ourselves and making a commitment to do something to alleviate that distress in every moment. I also want people to experience the energising quality of engaging in spacious conversations about the power of compassion in our lives.

At a Compassion Lab retreat we made this short video, I think you will get the sense of the love and the laughter that make these workshops sing.

I am excited about joining Mary in a Compassion Lab next year and to experience first hand this energy and insight, and will be sharing other opportunities for you to connect with Mary around compassion.


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Two weeks ago I was expecting to be part of a Compassion Lab with Mary Freer in Australia. Instead, I found myself on the receiving end of compassion, after my sister, Wendy died. Wendy, or Boo as she was known in the family, had cancer and we knew we had months and not years left together. We were not expecting her to go so soon. She died suddenly at the end of September. I miss her terribly.
Before Boo died learning more about compassion at work was on my agenda. It is the first of the six values of Wellbeing Teams. Now it is in focus with a new intensity. This is a blog of intent. I want to ‘Learn Out Loud’ about compassion and what this means at work, and to me.

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